Tag Archives: 4e

Reexamining the Dungeon?

There’s an interesting post from Robert Schwalb about the rut 4e adventure design has gotten itself into.  The comments are pretty interesting, too.

I hated the ‘delve’ format when it came out for 3.5e.  I read one adventure using it, said “WTF,” and just ran out of Dungeon after that.   And now I realize why!  System matters, and format and presentation matter.  These things encourage specific behaviors, and Rob seems to somewhat understand this – hence his post in the first place, he sees that the stultifying encounter description format is in practice encouraging frighteningly homogeneous slogs of encounters; it even influences larger dungeon design and cuts out page count and time for other secondary concerns like “story.”

But then of course Rob gets all offended at Landon saying in the comments that 4e’s mechanized approach has sacrificed organic feel and story at the altar of artificiality and predictability.  Rob says “Well but there was wealth by level, and CRs, in 3e!”  Yes, but (almost) no one used those as more than a suggestion. Formalizing that into “treasure parcels” and “XP budgets” is another huge step – rather than just having a guideline to help you understand “how much is this encounter likely to kick your PC’s asses” or “about how much loot will adventures and whatnot assume the PCs have” it is a lot different than having a mandatory prescription for it.  And 4e in general is much more hostile to “just throw that rule out if you don’t like it” – you can say you can do that, but the book certainly doesn’t encourage it, and a tightly interlocking set of rules like that makes it difficult.  When you read 4e, it clearly implies “You will do it this way.”  Sure, apparently in later 4e books there are “alternate options” that are less rigid, but the game has set the general tone already.  Just the statement that you need a supplement to give you an option for randomized treasure to replace the treasure parcel rule is fundamentally demented and indicative of the obsessive-compulsive lawyer mindset that 4e has become.  In previous editions, whether there was a rule for it in a book or not, there was more of an understanding that “these are suggestions, use them if it makes your life easier as a DM.”  They’ve done away with that, and now they get all surprised when story content shrinks and combat is seen as mandatory.  You reap what you sow.  If you present your game as a set of law books, then everyone starts acting like lawyers.  Designers in most fields understand this.

I’m sure it’s not their intention for that to happen – but it’s the natural conclusion of how 4e is framed.  There’s some bad natural conclusions to how 3e is framed too.  But for me – I play for the story, for the inter-character interaction, for the immersion – and so I see that 4e is a hostile environment to that.  4e lovers will pop out of the woodwork and say “NO IT’S NOT I ROLEPLAY IN IT” but you have a lot of articles like this by actual 4e designers that recognize this is happening and are even starting to understand the reasons.  You “can” create a story in 4e, but its nature is slowly discouraging that in players, play groups, adventure writers, and eventually that vicious circle spreads like a cancer through the hobby.  If I was more into the combat part of D&D, and the new version downplayed combat and had sloppy rules for it and was presented in a fashion that would encourage less and less combat encounters over time, I’d be similarly upset.

When I design a location/adventure encounter, do you know what I put in it?

Whatever the fuck I want to.

See, isn’t that easy?

It makes me sad that these otherwise talented adventure writers are trying so hard to innovate within the bizarre restricted environment that the tactical encounter format dictates.  “Maybe if we reorganize each tightly budgeted room as sectors…”  No one is putting the restriction on you but yourselves!  Rise up and cast off your chains!

Pathfinder and 4e Tied In Sales!

ICv2’s latest sales channel reports indicate something very surprising – that Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder are tied for #1 in hobby sales!  They’re followed by Warhammer Fantasy, Dark Heresy/Rogue Trader, and Dresden Files.

That’s pretty amazing, that a small company could rise to rival the historical keeper of D&D in such a short amount of time, and it’s a testament to the super hard work and high quality Paizo puts into their Pathfinder releases, and that they “get” what makes D&D great – it’s the adventures, stupid.

Of course these numbers aren’t based on unobtainable internal numbers and don’t include a variety of channels, it’s hobby stores/distributors only – DDI and Paizo’s subscriptions wouldn’t be included, for example – but it’s extremely notable.

Not only this, but hobby game sales are on the rise even while video game sales slump.

Mike Mearls Admits D&D 4e Blows

The Escapist has quite a roundup of D&D articles this week, spurred by the D&D Essentials “Red Box” release.

The most notable is this interview with D&D R&D Group Manager Mike Mearls.  In it, he acknowledges that 4e turned out a lot of previous D&D fans – “Look, no one at Wizards ever woke up one day and said ‘Let’s get rid of all of our fans and replace them.’ That was never the intent.”  But it’s an implicit acknowledgment that that’s what happened.  They also discuss the mechanics of 4e being too dissociated from reality and making it very difficult to immerse with it.  None of this surprises me, because it’s exactly what I said about 4e when it came out:

Though I’ve bagged on Mearls for some of the 4e design decisions, I had heard he’d been playing around with older school D&D and he appears to have gotten an understanding of the major lacks of 4e and how to get it back on track as really being D&D again.  Wait, here, let him tell you…

“If you are a disgruntled D&D fan, there’s nothing I can say to you that undoes whatever happened two years ago or a year ago that made you disgruntled – but what I can do, what’s within my power, is that going forward, I can make products, I can design game material, I can listen to what you’re saying, and I can do what I can do with design to make you happy again; to get back to that core of what makes D&D, D&D; to what made people fall in love with it the first time, whether it was the Red Box in ’83, the original three booklets back in ’74 or ’75 or even 3rd Edition in 2004, whenever that happened, to get back to what drew you into D&D in the first place and give that back to you.”

So congrats to Mearls and props for admitting that 4e had gone outside the lines of what many of us wanted in D&D, and that they’re actively going to try to do something about it.  Good news for 5e!

And that’s really what I wanted.  My critique of 4e hasn’t been “edition war for the sake of edition war” or general grousing – I knew that if people said loudly and clearly what they wanted out of D&D, that eventually someone would listen (changes of the guard happen frequently over at ol’ WotC).  It’s all about wanting D&D to return to a game someone can use to simulate a game world and immerse in a character, without being tossed out into board-game mode.

All the 4e lovers are in a tizzy over it, claiming that the article must be a wildly biased hackjob because no one could ever admit any flaws in 4e, but they’ll get over it, as they lap up whatever Wizards does without discretion.  So, it’s a win-win.

It may be too early to roll out the “Mission Accomplished” banner, but it seems we have the terrorists on the run!  And that’s why Mike Mearls is my…

Alpha Dog Of The Week

Gaming Industry Terrorist Watch

A quick roundup of what the usual malefactors are up to.

First as usual is Wizards of the Coast.  They’ve sent a cease and desist letter to Masterplan, a tool being developed for D&D 4e adventure/campaign planning.  They had coded a hook to connect, using your own D&D Insider subscription, to pull in monsters and whatnot.  Naturally WotC’s reaction is “Shut down or we’ll sue you!”

This one is even sketchier than usual though, legally.  It is pulling information using YOUR Insider account via their publicly available interface.  That’s a lot more like the RIAA saying you can’t burn an mp3 you bought to a CD so you can listen to it in your car.

Why anyone would even try to do anything for 4e, I don’t know.  It’s obvious that Wizards of the Coast will just come shit on you, sooner or later.  Forget them, they’ve killed official D&D, move on.

Second is Catalyst Games.  They’ve defeated an immediate ruling on the Chapter 7 request to declare them insolvent and take their stuff to pay all the peple they’re stiffing, but it goes to court on June 18.  Looks like they’re just happily moving forward with their six-figure thief as CEO and conducting business as usual, yay.  Time will tell if Topps will pull the license, or if subcontracting to a criminal enterprise is OK with them.

Jim Shipman of Outlaw Press surfaces every once in a while to re-open a Lulu or EBay or similar storefront to hawk his illegal Tunnels & Trolls wares before people report him to the provider and have him shut down.  He is apparently still able to find suckers, though!

Things have been ongoing but with no new specific major incidents; I declare the RPG Sector Terror Alert to be at Yellow.

EDIT:  I forgot one – Palladium Games is suing a computer game outfit called Trion for daring to make a computer game called “Rift: Planes of Telara.”  Their request for a restraining order to stop them from showing their game at E3 failed but of course there’s more to come.  Story courtesy Living Dice.

Why Complain About 4e? Stop the Edition Wars!

As one of those who is known to still vent the occasional rant at 4e, let me chime in to explain why it’s not just pure wickedness and hate behind why I and others who find fault with 4e don’t just “shut up and go away.”

This entry started as a response to a good post by Zachary the First in response to a Newbie DM article.  It got long and I thought I’d post it here in expanded form.

I think what happened in the 3.5e->4e transition is clear to everyone who has analyzed the edition change to any degree. In short, a significant number of 3e and other legacy D&D players who enjoy simulationist play feel mostly left out in 4e as the rules changed to not support that playstyle well.  The point of this post isn’t to debate this truth (go here for that); I think at this point it’s pretty much accepted among both 4e fans and detractors.

Which is fair enough. D&D play styles have been diverse over time; certain editions have supported different styles better, there are other games out there, etc.  No playstyle is the “one true way,” it’s all personal preference.

However, besides the nostalgic cachet to the D&D trademark, there’s no denying that WotC is the 900 pound gorilla in the RPG market and D&D is the most played game. More support material is published for D&D than anything else.   This means that the change in playstyle support has other secondary effects felt outside the printed pages of the PHB.

Some people – experienced gamers with a knowledge of the larger RPG landscape –  pick the game system they rationally prefer. Many, many others are led into a default play style by the game they pick up first, the game that is on every bookstore shelf and the majority of people play – in this case, the majority of gamers are led to 4e by virtue of its market dominance and then get “molded” into the 4e style by playing it.

I think it’s clear that not all that market share is a clear case of “people have specifically chosen gamist tactical combat as their preferred mode of gaming;” with any new edition most sales are driven by “this is the new version of that popular thing.”  But players begin, consciously and unconsciously, adhering to its default metaphor.

As we all know, gaming is a social hobby, and it can be hard to find gaming groups and, on the publishing side, get sufficient critical mass to get “fringe” products produced.

As a result, there is significant incentive for me and others who prefer a different type of gaming to continue to advocate for D&D to (re-)adopt our mindset (in 5e, if nothing else). Because when your style of gaming is marginalized outside D&D, then your ability to find like minded gamers and get products that suit your needs is severely degraded. Thus, even if I don’t play 4e, it affects me negatively by affecting the larger gaming ecosystem. (Note that me house-ruling to accomplish simulation in 4e doesn’t reduce any of these secondary effects, and is therefore not a useful solution).

This ecosystem effect is obvious.  It’s why Microsoft pushes Windows – it’s not just for the dollars from Windows sales but from the effect on the resulting computing ecosystem that works against Mac, Linux, etc. on multiple levels.  It’s just an effect, only good or bad from the point of view of which side of the ecosystem you play in.

It’s traditional that the majority doesn’t understand the concern of the marginalized – why be angry?  Go with the flow!  Nobody’s telling you what to do!  But in the end, it’s not that simple (ask any minority group).  It’s not anyone’s intent to marginalize simulation gamers, but intent has nothing to do with the actual results.

And that’s why I personally plan to continue to agitate for changes to D&D to reintegrate the simulationist banner within the game. Doing so produces:

  • the ability for me to play the best-supported and most-played RPG
  • the network effect of producing other games and gamers who are fluent in simulation play

Make sense?  It’s not about an “edition war.”  No one’s giving out a medal for “objectively best version of D&D.”   It’s about “we want this kind of gameplay actively included in the world’s most popular role-playing game ™”.  The discussion isn’t “over” because the latest version doesn’t support it; there will always be another version.  In fact, it seems somewhat offensive and self-serving to tell people who don’t like 4e to “just go away, then” – our input into the development of D&D is just as valid as we’re still potential new customers.

I don’t begrudge anyone enjoying 4e or not liking simulation play.  These effects are not any of your “fault.”  However, in aggregate, the effect that D&D 4e has of supporting and predominating products, gamers, and gaming groups that are simulation unfriendly results in marginalization and therefore measurable harm to my enjoyment of the hobby.

And I don’t think that continuing to advocate for this is totally in vain, either.  Wizards certainly changed their tune some on the whole GSL/OGL thing, and I like to believe that change was facilitated by the press and critique that people, including myself, brought to bear.

Given all this, I hope the intelligent readers out there in the community will realize that this is the core problem that all the common retorts to criticism of 4e totally miss – “Well don’t play it then,” “House rule it!,” “People just fear change,” “4e’s out, it’s over, give up,” “Why don’t you complain about other games,” “I like 4e better because…”  All valid thoughts, none of which come logically to bear on this problem.  There are other RPGs I “don’t like,” that aren’t open, that only cater to one play style or another.  But this is the one that pushes the entire industry in its direction, so both as a habitual D&D player but also as a RPG gamer in general, I have a vested interest in its course and desire input into it.

Mike Mearls Strangles Realism In D&D Like It’s An Unruly Hooker

I hate to keep saying “I told you so” about Fourth Edition D&D, but there’s a thread on TheRPGSite that talks about the new Rust Monster in the MMII.  I really can’t believe what I’m reading.

As most of you know, in D&D the Rust Monster is a weird-looking mostly harmless critter feared by adventurers because of its diet.  It touches metal with its feathery antennae and cause it to rust into bits, then it eats the rust.

Well, apparently the thought of anyone losing a magic item is no longer tolerable to the Wizards designers.  Check it out:

Attack Mode: Dissolve Metal (standard action; per encounter) • Targets a creature wearing or wielding a rusting magic item of 10th level or lower or any non-magic rusting item; +9 vs. Reflex; the rusting item is destroyed.
Residuum Recovery • A rust monster consumes any item it destroys. The residuum from any magic items the monster has destroyed can be retrieved from its stomach. The residuum is worth the market value of the item (not one-fifth the value).

“Residuum” is the magic dust that you can disenchant 4e magic items into.  Normally, as part of their ridiculous and sad economic rules, it’s only worth 20% of the item’s cost.  However, the Rust Monster now kindly keeps it at full price for you in its gullet.  There’s an explicit rationale for this in the “A Guide to Using Rust Monsters” section in the MM2 which boils down to “don’t make any nine year olds cry”…

Eventually, though, the PCs should have an opportunity to regain their lost equipment by using the residuum found in the monster. Although a PC might lose an item, it is intended that the loss be only temporary, which is why the residuum recovered from a rust monster is equal to the full value of the destroyed item. How the PCs deal with the loss is what makes the rust monster fun. Be wary of PCs who try to abuse a rust monster’s powers to their advantage by using rust monsters to consume items the PCs would otherwise sell for one-fifth value. In such cases, you should reduce the resulting residuum to one-fifth value, effectively making the rust monster a free Disenchant Magic Item ritual.

What, they didn’t bother rule-izing that last part by giving it a “Detect Intent” power that would formally change the residuum value based on its reading of the character’s mind?

Seriously, come the fuck on.  Realism and consequences are not “fun”, according to Mearls and the other 4e writers.  All those people who have enjoyed playing any other edition of D&D must be confused.

Why not just take that small additional step and have characters respawn close to the dungeon with all their gear?  God forbid a dead party member gets left behind or some other factor causes them to lose their stuff.  Or have un-fun trips to get raised or otherwise be out of the action for more than five minutes.  Some of the 4e community is dismissive of “these tired comparisons of 4e to MMORPGs” but – the truth’s the truth.  This is a pure computer game move.

Heck, put spawn points in the dungeon.  I was amused recently when I got Unreal Tournament 3 on the XBox 360 and in the cutscenes they actually refer to the respawn points as real, in-world things.  Most games have the courtesy to pretend they don’t really exist (I know, it actually makes some sense in the UT universe…  But this isn’t XCrawl, it’s D&D.).  Time for D&D to do the same thing!  Dying, gear loss, etc. should all be only moments of delay from getting back in the melee!

I mean, I’m honestly not averse to that in some fringe take-off of the genre like XCrawl.  But in D&D?  In a core world that supposedly might make some sense, like the fantasy worlds from those things called books people used to read?  Really?

Chasing the Dragon – Who’s Down With the New GSL?

With the release of Wizards of the Coast’s new Game System License for Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition, they’ve made a bunch of improvements, there’s no doubt.  So how are the third party publishers taking it?

The general summary is that even though the anti-OGL clause is gone and there’s some more favorable termination language, this experience has taught people with large, established businesses that they don’t want to be dependent on Wizards for their sustenance.  The remaining parts of the license, which still allow Wizards to terminate you without the six month sell off at their discretion – especially the hazy “morals clause” – spell out too much risk.  So people with a game of their own are going to go that way.  Which I think is fair.

If people still had trust in WotC that they would “behave well” and probably wouldn’t be in the arbitrary termination business, it might be different.  But everyone’s seen a lot of sadness go down over the last two years and there’s not a reasonable expectation of that.

In fact, reading between the lines, though it would be “safe” for Paizo or GR to just do a couple 4e products  without taking a major line over to it – they generally just don’t want to.  What we’ve heard of 4e sales doesn’t make the $$ too tempting and after spending so much time and effort and love and pain “chasing the dragon” for the last couple years, they’ve just had it.  (My interpretation.)

So the big boys are going to stay away, but it seems like it’s a compelling play for folks who are just starting up and have less to lose.

Pipe up down below if you hear about other folks getting on board or staying away.

Wizards Releases Revised GSL – Is It Better?

So first, a little history.  The first version of the new Wizards of the Coast license to let other people publish products for the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game, the Game System License (GSL), was poorly recieved, especially coming after the open and visionary Open Gaming License.  I covered its flaws from when details started to leak last April, in Wizards Declares War On Open Gaming.  They decided to back off of its most controversial “poison pill clause” a little at the time (Wizards Comes Clean On Open Gaming).    But when the final GSL was released, it still wasn’t all that great (The GSL Is Finally Released).   And it wasn’t just me, most of the major players who put out D&D third edition products under the old OGL walked away (How Bad Is the New Wizards D&D 4e Game System License?).  Even Clark Peterson of Necromancer Games, lawyer and big booster of WotC and their license up to that point, had to walk away (Clark Peterson Is A Flip-Flopper).  Wizards tried to ignore the hullabaloo for a while, but finally in August said they’d be revamping the GSL.  Then… time passed.

The New GSL In Depth

But today, they have released a new version of the GSL!  Let’s go through it and see how it is.

Before we start, if you don’t understand all this business about the OGL and d20 STL and GSL and SRD – read my article “Open Gaming for Dummies” which explains the basis of a lot of this.

OK, the license starts by delineating that it’s for D&D Fourth Edition (4e) and lists a bunch of core rulebooks, updated to include newer ones like the PHB2.  It’s nice that they’ll be allowing access to more than just the “core three,” but are they planning on updating the list every time they publish?  Or will subsequent books not be included?   Hard to say.

Starting and Stopping

First, this isn’t a “no-touch” license like the OGL was; you need to send in a document to WotC that they agree to, so it is a real direct entity-to-entity agreement.  Second, they can change the license any way they want at any time, and don’t have to notify their licensees.  This is still a little sucky – if you publish a book, and then they change the GSL to somehow be a problem (like, say, “give us a meeeeelion dollars,”) you automatically accept the changes if you continue to distribute your book after the date it changes.  A bit of an ambush clause, if you ask me.  But, there is now a part of the termination clause that actually lets the licensee terminate the agreement!  That’s new.  And once you terminate, you can sell your stuff off for six months.  Same six month grace period exists if they decide to cancel the GSL wholesale.  The six month period does NOT apply if Wizards decides to terminate your license.

This is a positive change.  Previously, you were pretty much completely at Wizards’ mercy – if they decided to screw you and tell you to set your warehouse on fire tomorrow, they could.  From a  business viewpoint, no one with self-respect (or decent risk management skills) could agree to it previously because of the update and termination (“ambush”) clauses.  Now…  it’s not exactly friendly, but it might be viable, if your products tend to make most of their sales in the first six months.

They still follow it up with the usual legalese about “you can never challenge this license in court, or Wizards’ right to anything it claims as IP under patent, copyright, trademark, trade dress, trade name, trade secret, or anything else we can think of.”  I assume these are largely unenforceable; I see these a good bit in other legal agreements and somehow people still go to court over them.

What Can You Do?

It’s worth mentioning for the newbies that the GSL is a “free” license like the OGL was before it – there are no royalties or payments involved.

The license covers paper game books and pdfs only, or other stuff not excluded in section 5.5, which we’ll get to.  You basically can use any specific term listed in the 4e SRD.  This SRD is a lot more restricted than the old d20 SRD; essentially you can just use some D&D terms and refer back to the core books.  You have to use some logos and disclaimers. You can’t describe character creation or advancement; it still won’t let you create “D&D variants” like Conan, Mutants & Masterminds, True20, or the many other things that came from the time of the OGL.  You can’t change anything from how it’s defined in the core books – the GSL FAQ says that even saying Eladrin are taller in your game world than what the PHB says is off limits.

There’s what I think is a new clause that lets you make new artwork “based on” the art in the D&D books, which is nice – before there was just a clause saying “don’t refer to the art in any way!” which means that drawing an orc too much like the orcs are depicted in the Monster Manual was bad, which was retarded.  Although they specifically list some critters you still can’t create derivative imagery of:  “Balhannoth, Beholder, Carrion Crawler, Displacer Beast, Gauth, Githyanki, Githzerai, Kuo-Toa, Mind Flayer, Illithid, Slaad, Umber Hulk, and Yuan-Ti.”  Why just those?  (Because they’re not in the SRD, says the FAQ, but that begs the question.)  This is a bit of a WTF? clause.

This leads us to Section 5.5, the licensed products clause.  It still omits Web sites, which is sad.  They say fansite guidelines are coming out soon, but it took seven months for their GSL revamp to appear, so who knows when that’ll happen.  It omits software, which is sad because they’ve always produced shit software and it would be nice to have more people working on that, but eh.  No novels, no miniatures, no t-shirts.  The worst part of this is that you can’t include a licensed product in a magazine that isn’t entirely a licensed product.  This means no magazine can print one 4e article – the whole mag has to be all 4e, all the time.  I’ve worked on RPG zines before, and this is a PITA.  We’ll call this the Magazine Killer clause.  Again, this was in the previous rev too, so if not better at least it’s not worse.

Section 6 is the usual morals clause.  No sex, “excessive” violence, or real-world stuff.  Stupid and moralistic, and somewhat counter-productive…  But again, unchanged.

What’s Missing?

Well, the other big change is that they removed the remaining “poison pill” clause.  This clause basically said that “you can’t publish the same stuff under the OGL and GSL.”  In other words, if you want to create a 4e version of an adventure, campaign setting, etc. that is also available via OGL – you have to give up the OGL.   Of course, this meant that everyone with multiple product lines including OGL stuff – Green Ronin’s Freeport, for example – wouldn’t touch 4e with a ten foot pole.

Now, apparently, you could put out a “4e Guide to Freeport,” adapt existing 3.5e adventures to 4e, etc.  You can’t dual-stat; the FAQ states that, say, using Cleric as defined in the OGL inside a GSL-licensed product violates the “don’t redefine things” clause in the GSL.  That’s a little annoying – I fail to see how they have a vested interest in someone not dual-statting an adventure, for example – but it’s a minor restriction in lieu of the previous huge ass one.


There is no doubt that the two simple changes made in this version – adding a termination clause with *some* protection for the licensee and removing the GSL “poison pill” clause – have hugely improved the license overall.  It has changed from “we hate open gaming and will do everything we can to stomp it out” to “open gaming’s not for us, but no hard feelings.”

It’s still a little wonky (don’t draw a Yuan-Ti!) and has a little of the “You’re all 4e or not” flavor in the no-mixed-magazines and no-dual-statting restrictions.  But whereas the previous GSL was probably rated a 2 out of 10 in terms of desirability for a potential licensee (it really could only have been worse if it incorporated forced sodomy) this version jumps to a 6 out of 10.  It could be more open, but in the end it is a free-use license that lets you publish some things for D&D 4e with only moderate restrictions.  For comparison, the OGL is a 9 out of 10; it could only be improved by making it more future-evil proof, and the old d20 STL is a 7 out of 10, it still had morals clauses and was bossy but at least it didn’t try to tell you what you could do with your other products.

Should I Use It?

If you’re only interested in doing 4e stuff – sure.  You are officially no longer a chump to sign at the dotted line.  Rest easy tonight, for the first night in nine months.

If you do other stuff as well, especially OGL – well, you have to think about a couple things.  One, do you want to fork your R&D to include D&D 4e?  I suspect Paizo, for example, won’t spend much effort publishing 4e adventures because they are now heavily invested in Pathfinder, and as 4e is a very different beast from previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons, it would take a lot of work to dual-purpose.  But maybe Green Ronin would want to put out a “4e Guide To Freeport.”  And certainly outfits like Necromancer that just do adventures and aren’t strongly system-devoted could.  Anyway, don’t glut the stores with 4e stuff because you can now and it might make a quick buck; evaluate it according to your business strategy and focus on your core.

Two, you have to decide if the six month termination deal is okay.  On the one hand, it might be unlikely to happen, and some product types generate a lot of their revenue in the first six months.  On the other hand, this process (and the recent experience for the third party companies of burning all their old d20 books according to the terms of the termination of the old d20 STL) has made a lot of people not trust Wizards so much any more.  And if you lose your GSL licensee status (at your discretion), it’s not just your newest product you lose but anything in the pipeline.  And if your products sell well over time, six months may not be all that great.  Plus, you have to remember that if Wizards terminates your license themselves, you’re boned, no six months.  But it does offer you some legitimate business tradeoffs.


Producing third party supplements for Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition is now viable.  It took a long time to get here, but we have to give props to Scott Rouse, the D&D Brand Manager, for listening to the community’s complaints and making positive changes.

Game Geeks on D&D 4e – Part 1

Game Geeks has a comprehensive, albeit negative, review of D&D 4e.  He echoes my concerns about back compatibility, role pigeonholing, etc.  There will be a Part 2 next week.

Will WotC Close You Down Next?

Wizards of the Coast has sent a cease-and-desist letter resulting in the closing of popular fan site “Ema’s Character Sheets.”  As usual, they refuse to comment on that action or commit to actually delivering a fan site policy so that people might be able to operate safely.

Ema’s Character Sheets had loads of high quality character sheets for 3.5e, 4e, Star Wars, and other games.  They had 4e power cards, too.  You could even save your characters up on their server for a fee, and they had a character builder functionality.  Which was all great, and has been running without comment for  years, until WotC finally got their 4e Character Builder done, then it’s nap time for the competition.

The worst thing about all this is that Wizards is going after folks without even delivering the policies that should let people know if they’re “safe” or not.  The GSL revamp, the fan site policy – all in limbo for months with nothing but statements like “Well, it’s not really that important” from Scott Rouse.

Sure, the data Ema’s site (and hundreds of other sites across the Internet) was using is Wizards IP.  They certainly have the “legal right” to go after anyone so much as saying the words “Dungeons & Dragons” on their site.  But the point of the gaming community is to let people use that IP to advance the game.  Rouse says “Oh, you know, we only really care about pirate sites posting whole torrents of our books.”  But that’s clearly a lie in the face of this action.  And he crosses the line from honest company rep to corporate shill when he says things like “not one website has been sued because of a lack of policy” (emphasis mine).  No, you don’t have to sue them, they close down when you C&D them because they can’t afford the lawyers you can, and they are risking their own personal money, time, and life while you get to hide behind incorporation and an organization.

So what was the problem with Ema’s?  That they charged for storage?  That they had a “software” component?  That they used Wizards IP?  No one knows, and so no one can avoid that.  As one poster on ENWorld pointed out, “My avatar here is Wizards IP [it’s a pic of Tanis Half-Elven’s face from DragonLance].  Can they come after ENWorld?”

The answer, legally, is yes.  Their IP is their IP in our insanely corp-friendly legal system.  Whether it’s charged for or whatnot is immaterial except in whether the company decides in its own mind whether you’re worth the effort to crush or not.  This is why people put out real licenses and policies to create an understanding with the community that has to use some of their IP to do anything meaningful.

So for everyone who’s been taking Wizards at its word, that “Oh, you’re safe unless you’re a pirate” – it’s not true any more.  And until they deliver a revised GSL and fan site policy, you can’t know if you’ll be safe.  But don’t worry, they’re working on it.  Real hard.  Because one day soon, they will change their ways and decide to value rather than just shit on you, the online gaming community.  Seriously, they say they will!  How could you not believe them?

[Thanks to ENWorld for breaking the news – here’s the whole long forum thread if you’re interested.  I’ll note that ENWorld charges for community supporter accounts and has 4e character sheets and power cards for download too (including Forgottten Realms IP).  And where do forums/wikis end and “software” begin?  Not sure they are really all that far from Ema’s site on this one.]

Some Miscellaneous D&D News

I’m ignoring most of it because I don’t like 4e, but these are of interest:

1.  The new GSL is still on a collision course with nowhere.  Scott Rouse is working on it but with Lidda gone, it’s not coming soon and when it does, probably won’t be significantly changed.   Yay.

2.  WotC may be releasing non-random minis!  This would be welcome.  The price and prepaint of their minis are great, the randomness not.  I’ve only bought about 5 packs because of that, even though I’ve desperately wanted more from playing a summoner recently.  Thought some of the commons are pretty cheap from the secondary market.

3.  More and more people are relating their 4e experiences, and learning that, as I said, the new rules are not indeed streamlined, but take even longer to run a combat.

Pathfinder RPG Free Beta Is Out

Heard of the new Pathfinder RPG? It’s Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition. Well, not really, but it should have been.

While Wizards took D&D in 4e and fundamentally changed it, Paizo took the OGL part of Third Edition and retooled it into what many people call “D&D 3.75e” – an improved version but still mostly 3e-compatible.

Believing strongly in involving the gamer community in the development of the game, they went through a number of public Alpha drafts and have now released their Beta product. This will be playtested by anyone who wants to for a year and then the final “1.0” version will be released this time next year.

You can buy the Beta in hardcover for $50, softcover for $25, or… download the PDF for free!  That’s right, go to Paizo Publishing’s Pathfinder RPG page and get it for free (you have to register, the process to get it is via their online store/shopping cart). Then, you can go and give rules and playtest feedback on their forums.

So far, they’re doing everything I wish Wizards had done with D&D 4e.

  • Continue with open gaming by supporting and releasing content via the OGL? Check.
  • Meaningfully involving the D&D gamer community in the design and development of the game? Check.
  • Developing an awesome campaign setting and adventures to use with it? Check.

Pathfinder RPG Beta – What’s In It

They’ve streamlined and simplified the combat mechanics while making the core classes a bit more bad ass. Races have a bit more put into them, making them more distinctive. The barbarian’s rage powers are very interesting, and there’s more abilities for bards. Fighters get armor and weapon training abilities in addition to their bonus feats so they get something at every level. Sorcerers have “bloodlines” that give them additional powers.

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